A Different Kind of Race

Finding a meaningful substitute for running and meaning in one’s running.

By on September 24, 2013 | 30 comments

On September 12, Thursday morning before the Run Rabbit Run 100, I sit at the kitchen table dutifully finalizing my preparation for the next day’s race. Having never run the course or any of the trails around Steamboat, I am deeply concentrated on trying to match sugar and caffeine to the map and course description. Suddenly, I am interrupted by a faint ringing sound that seems to be coming from beneath my chair. Indeed, the noise is emanating from our crawl space, more precisely from the water alarm placed beneath our boiler. I have been excited about the recent continuous rain, thinking it might make for some tough conditions at the hundred, but the sight of water pooling under our boiler has me slightly less amused. With hope of saving our boiler, I grab a few soft flasks and a spare hydration bladder out of my race bag, the most convenient receptacles for Deanne and me to scoop water.

A few hours later, the situation appears to only be further deteriorating. The power is out all over town so, despite having borrowed a sump pump, we have to run it off of a generator. Our neighbour to the west has four feet of water in her basement and the one to the east does not look much better. We have been digging improvised French drains to try and redirect some of the flow, but the ground is so saturated that water is overflowing from our well. We are getting word of road closures all around us, along with much more severe damage down in the canyons. We work late into the night, but I keep a small sliver of hope that, if the storm dies down, I might still make the race in the morning given the noon start.

The rain continues all night and, by morning, a raging torrent has blown through the bank of my neighbor’s creek, affecting everyone downstream. We get to work digging, shoveling, putting rebar and tarps into the wall to divert the water. Being tapered and fit to run 100 miles, I am glad to have a good outlet to channel all my energy. I enjoy physical labor and, after many hours of toil, I come to think there is not much difference in the pleasure I find running or digging trenches. In a lot of ways, both activities share similarities: hard physical work, contact with the land, a release, and provider of energy. Digging also has the benefit of being directly meaningful to others, something I often struggle to reconcile with my running.

Joe Grant - working man

The next day, my neighbor Dave calls upon me to enlist with the Gold Hill Fire Department to help with search-and-rescue efforts down in Rowena. The small community of about 15 homes sits in Lefthand Canyon between Lickskillet Road and the fire station. Vehicle access is impossible due to high waters and washed-out roads, so Dave and I lead a crew of 10 down a mix of steep, rugged game trails and old mining roads. We bushwhack through some thick brush paralleling the creek to the first home. Cliff, a grizzled Vietnam veteran emerges, greeting us kindly. His bandana looks as if it is a part of his forehead, faded and encrusted into his skin. His thick, white beard is stained with smoke marks. He is not going anywhere for he would have to leave his cats. He has plenty of food and is content to sit out the flood. Our objective is to give people who wish to evacuate an option to do so now, so as to then mobilize rescue efforts elsewhere over the coming days. In the next home, Pat, is staying as well. He tells us that his house is for sale as is and that he will part with his trials bike for $3,000. A boat would be a necessity would any of us want to consider his offers. All the people we encounter wish to stay. One group of folks have a satellite dish rigged up, so they still receive phone and Internet. They are enjoying a few brews and a cookout on the deck while the road drifts away not far below them. Pam’s wonderful garden appears untouched despite some of the water sweeping through it the day before. She has her toenails painted and is wearing cute, turquoise earrings. She is happy to hear that Cliff is okay despite having lived here for 37 years and never having seen the man. One gentleman is getting a chopper ride out with the National Guard. He has a plane to China the next day to pick up his mail-order bride. The folks in Rowena are eclectic, hearty, and despite the circumstances, an incredibly welcoming community. With the conveniences of modern life gone with the waters, it is a pleasure (and a relief) to drop in on people on foot, to find them safe, and to share a brief moment of conversation. In some ways, through disaster, I find that we are more aware of what matters, of community, of taking time to really hear how people are doing without the usual distractions of phones, Internet, and busy work lives.

With our mission over, I am sent to run the five miles back up the canyon to retrieve our vehicles and bring one back down to Sunshine for a more rapid exit for our crew. As I plow up the hill, taking every off-trail shortcut I know, I am happy to connect my running with a more utilitarian purpose. Running 100 miles is a powerful and meaningful experience, but I am thankful that the profundity of such experiences can transcend the scope of a race and take on practical utility in our daily lives.

Colorado Front Range - flooding road damage

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • For those of you in Boulder and its flood-affected environs, did you put your running ability to work when the waters came?
  • And, for the rest of us, have you ever found yourself using running as aid in other, crucial aspects of life?
Joe Grant
frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.